Hexplore is a roleplaying adventure questing game where you are taking on an evil adversary intent on destroying your realm. There are three editions of this game available, the original Valley of the Dead King, The Forests of Adrimon and the newest Sands of Shurax, all being similar in concept and mechanics but have different themes and storyline weaved throughout the game. They also have different sets of heroes which are interchangeable between the sets.
The game centres around your hero where you try to gather talismans or relic fragments, creating powerful equipment that may help destroy your adversary. Within the forest version, Adrimon the sorceress is enslaving the forest dwellers, and players will be able to gain favours from the forest spirits, sneak into the cities, move though the fey-realm and interact with the Dryad, a powerful ally, and battle tough foes or release them from the Magi’s control to become allies. It is very roleplay centric in that you have basic skills to move, search for treasure and survive in the forests, alongside combat abilities of attack and defence and two clever mastery skills which is where the characters become unique to their role. The main part of the game involves you upgrading your skills board using a mark and wipe process, which i found works really well.
This game feels very freeform in its exploration choices, the game map will have quest destinations to visit where you know you will face a challenge to progress your story. The main enemy in Hexplore, either the Dead King or Admiron, has its own count down progression which encourages you to keep moving and developing before the eventual showdown happens, and as you become stronger, progressively harder boss monsters will become defeatable. The Dead King will move around the board destroying cities and chasing you down, whereas Admiron is a more distant foe who waits for the right time to draw you in.
These games are not overly complex, although there is a learning curve to know what you can do in city, shrines or ruins, and there are helpful component boards to refer to. It soon becomes second nature, although you will still need to look up conditions, skills and new equipment regularly. As a solo or two player game, i really enjoy the journey of discovery, and as you play you will progress a characters storyline and increase their skills. The writing on event and quest cards provides theme and there is a nice story book too which adds background to certain events and enemies. The full game is a long one, closer to Mage Knight length here to get near the final showdown (although there are quicker variants allowed), however the enjoyment really is in the journey, and i also found great fun in setting myself a shorter objective for instance to free Hathowyr the great owl or defeat Tharanos the rotting treant, and still have an engaging shorter game to play. I would have thought writing more bite sized objective scenarios would have been a good move by the developer.
The artwork and components of the games are excellent, and i loved all the boss monsters with their unique abilities. The wipe-able hero boards are nice to use and become a quite addictive element as you chase your next stat upgrade through the game encounters, and the additional extra storybook which adds background theme is a superb touch. The real joy of the games are the adventure story you are telling yourself, and the quest or event cards you reveal really help to tell it. It is similar in concept to games such as Runebound and Mage Knight, but it also seems much more rpg like when playing. Outdoor adventure style games are becoming so good at what they provide for the solo or two player games, they are fast overtaking many dungeon games as my favourites to own. The latest new game development is that the publisher is adding storybooks to follow with branching game choices to make while you play. This is a great game for solo or two players particularly and just seems to be getting better and better.